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Keehan J grants ‘life-long’ reporting restriction order

No public interest in identifying victim of CSE

Mr Justice Keehan has granted a life-long reporting restriction order in respect of a victim of child sexual exploitation in Birmingham.

Keehan J was concerned with the follow-up decision to Birmingham City Council and Safraz Riaz and others [2014] EWHC 4247 (Fam), in which the court concluded that a vulnerable 17 year-old woman, AB, had been a victim of child sexual exploitation ('CSE'). 

In Birmingham City Council v Sarfraz Riaz and Others [2015] EWHC 1857 (Fam), the issue was now whether the reporting restriction order ('RRO') to prevent the identification of AB should continue past her 18th birthday and give her lifelong protection.  Birmingham City Council and AB sought a lifelong RRO and the Press Association and Times Newspapers opposed such an order.

AB's Article 8 right to respect for private and family life and the media's Article 10 right of freedom of expression were both engaged.  Further, s12(4) of the HRA 1998 requires the court to have particular regard for the importance of the right to freedom of expression.

Noting the case of JXMX v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust [2015] EWCA Civ 96 and those of Thompson and Venables, Mary Bell, and Maxine Carr which are the only three reported decisions in which lifelong anonymity orders were made in favour of adults, it was clear that the granting of lifelong anonymity orders was "truly exceptional".

The court also considered the legislative position which permits lifelong anonymity to be granted to victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings who are under the age of 18 when the proceedings commence and that anonymity is afforded to all victims of sexual abuse and victims of female genital mutilation in criminal proceedings. 

Keehan J considered that a lifelong RRO being made in favour of AB would have to be on the basis of the most compelling circumstances.

The court had evidence of AB's social worker and a psychologist about AB's continuing vulnerabilities, her anxiety around media reporting and identification, and the risk of further stress impacting her engagement in services and now her pregnancy.  The local authority expressed concern that other young victims of CSE might be dissuaded from coming forward if they were worried about publicity and identification when they turned 18. 

The judge carefully balanced the competing Article 8 and Article 10 rights and concluded that there was no public interest in identifying AB as a victim of CSE and there were compelling reasons why AB's history should be confidential and private to her. Therefore, the judge was completely satisfied that the balance was decisively in favour of granting the lifelong RRO sought.

For the judgment and fuller summary by Ariel Ricci of Coram Chambers from which this item is derived, please click here.